Sunday, June 10, 2012

Responses (Swallowing the Tablets, pt. 1)

Responses to Tom Trinko, Frank Mattison, and John Williamson, whose criticism can be found here.

"First he ignores the fundamental difference between God who created us out of nothing and man.

“Hence the writer thinks it's bad that God declares Himself to be the Boss. Clearly if God made us and sustains us we owe Him something. But the writer just says that's bad. He thinks it's evil that God who gives us everything shouldn't be mocked. The same yahoo wouldn't mock his boss or his wifes parents but thinks it's evil to not mock God.”

I don’t discuss it outright until part three, so I do ignore the fundamental difference between God and man in part one. Spoiler alert: I don’t think there is a difference. Men created God and their prejudice and ignorance come through quite clearly in the Holy Writ.

God shouldn’t have ownership of us because he creates us, no more than a parent owns their children. Kids don’t owe their creators anything a priori, respect has to be earned, not asserted.

A healthy society is contingent on being able to criticize the leader. God doesn’t allow for that. It’s asserted that he gives us everything; why does that immunize him from mockery? Because he says so. I’m not clear which “yahoo” he’s referring to, but I certainly would mock anyone who deserves to be knocked down a few pegs. Bosses, in-laws, politicians, and religious people stand to benefit from a little lampooning.

* * *

“He's ignorant in that he doesn't realize that in the commandment not to kill it's actually do not murder. Hence he mutters some confused things about self defense that are irrelevant.”

As I said, all citations come from the King James Version, which renders 20:13 “Thou shalt not kill.” It’s a shame that so many American Christians read sloppy, “modernized” translations of their own sacred text. The original Hebrew said “kill,” meaning to “deliberately kill”. That criminalizes, for example, the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. All I say is that there are ethical exceptions. But God seems perfectly content with deliberately killing people.

* * *

“…If he had shown even the mildest sign that he had put any effort at all into studying the general human history of how tomes like the torah [sic] come about... I would have given him the time for a full read through.”

For the purpose of part one, I was operating under the assumption that the Ten Commandments were written by God. I’m glad we agree that they ‘came about’ in a different way. I welcome any challenge to my reading of the Exodus, but it’s a pretty straightforward synopsis. There’s also an admission here that he didn’t read the entire article.

“I personally find it offensive when an atheist starts his anti biblical arguments by applying judeo-christian morality to the Old testament, and declaring ‘It comes up short.’
This practice is juvinile [sic] to say the least... and generally beneath any kind of response outside of a hearty ‘pishau’.”

Surely you would maintain that Judeo-Christian morality is founded in the Old Testament? I’m not quite sure what you mean when you say I ‘apply Judeo-Christian morality’ to it. What I did do was challenge God on ethical grounds and I come to the conclusion that God is immoral by any modern standard.

* * *

As for who I’m addressing with the piece, it’s simply the people who read my blog. There are believers and non-believers, strident and doubting who check it out. I’m pretty sure this isn’t what you’re implying, but I don’t speak differently with Christians than I do with atheists, even when discussing religion.

My purpose is to outline the argument against the Decalogue, while being a little cheeky. I want to challenge Christians who think their religion is just, and challenge Christian apologists who masquerade as secularists.

It’s long enough as it is, and spending any more time on each commandment would be superfluous. That said, if there’s something that isn’t clear, the debate should be elucidating. As it stands, no one has yet responded to the actual arguments yet, rather my tone of voice.

And if someone’s reaction to the piece is instant dismissal, he wasn’t ready to have a serious discussion about his beliefs in the first place.


  1. Typical atheist clap trap. You declare that God isn't who we say God is and then you slap down the fake god you invent.

    The point is simple if God is God then we do owe Him period. If there is no God then clearly we don't. However since you only have blind faith that there is no God excuse us if we ignore you on that point.

    Further parents don't create their children. They participate but God makes the child. Bad analogy on your part.

    The bit about criticizing the boss is a clear example of you not understanding who God is. He is perfect and incapable of error. If you disagree with Him you're wrong by definition. Now God may not exist but if He does He's not who you're describing. You confuse God with some conservative yahoo who isn't smart enough to realize how brilliant you are.

    And finally you didn't address the key comment namely you didn't show why the ten commandments are bad. I mean do you favor adultery?

    So continue to feel self righteous but the reason we instantly dismiss the piece isn't because we're not ready to have a serious discussion it's because you haven't written a serious piece about the God we worship. You wrote a piece about some souped ups man and then concluded he should be more democratic. But when you're perfect the normal human rules don't apply.

    PS The proper translation is not kill it's murder.

    1. No, I say that God as described is a really horrible tyrant, and that you just don't see him that way because you choose to believe in the righteousness of an authoritarian system. If that's standard claptrap, so be it. I assert it nonetheless.

      I have blind faith that there is no God, you say. I hate to say it but you give the impression that you've never really read or heard any argument against the validity of religious faith. You do you call it your (presumably) Christian faith, right? Excuse me if I ignore you on that point.

      Parents don't make a child, God does. They only participate? In what aspect of conception, development, and birth, are parents not totally responsible for the existence of a child? Where's the evidence of God's participation? Go look up "unfalsifiable arguments" and see why you should be embarrassed to assert that as an adult.

      But let's say God did make us, what ownership rights does that give him? He says so, that's one thing. And he's infallible. But this is a tautological trap. It's invalid. By what right does God own any of us?

      Human ownership is called slavery. You maintain that God is our benevolent master. What you have to understand is that you're making the case for subjugation of all people, without any chance of empancipation. Whether God is a good master or not, you are still glad of your chains. The authoritarian impulse is at work here.

      My purspose is to make you think about how your innate ethical compass is in stark contrast to God's. I'm guessing you're anti-slavery, are horrified by slavery, and abhor child and spousal abuse. Your opinion is different than God's. The Boss certainly practices these things himself, and commands you to do likewise when he wishes it. If you give him a pass because he's "incapable of error," that's a piddling acquiescence to a bully.

      No "conservative yahoo" I've ever met has had the guts to defend the slaughter of the non-Levite tribes. Nor have they ever stood by the Biblical definition of adultery. If you want to be the first, we can have an interesting discussion. Otherwise, I have to call you on another attempt to give your scripture a PR makeover. God is either malevolent, or the Old Testament is wrong.

      You ask me personally what I think about adultery. I think it's a nasty thing to do to someone, but I have little more to add than a personal disapproval. Maybe you agree. I also would have felt this way about adultery without being told that I have to feel this way. Your religion insists thtat without God, we'd be cheating on all our wives and husbands.

      Do you favor a state that enforces the Old Testament prescription for adulterers? In that case, we have a problem.

      I did address in full why I think the Ten Commandments are bad. Right here. You just haven't read the article. The above is all responses to individual comments on the previous article.

      "When you're perfect, the normal human rules don't apply." There you have it. Should God call on you to do evil, it would be justified because God is above ethics. That's the reason your faith is hideous -- anyone can get away with wrongdoing if they invoke the diety.

      And, PS, the Court of St. James would disagree with you about the "proper" translation. All my citations come from the KJV. You are no doubt using some bogus "New American" translation. By the way, it comes from a Hebrew verb that means both 'murder' and 'kill', so don't try and get away with that pseudo-legalistic nonsense.

  2. So, what ya'll are dancing around here is something called "divine command theory." The crux of it is that if God said so, it is right. So when Abraham was about to kill Isaac, it was okay because God told him to do it. This gets us into pretty shaky territory. Most people try to cleverly interpret this story to maintain that God never intended to kill Isaac, so Abe was right to be obedient despite the fact that his God just told him to kill his kid. Killing your kid for God happened a few times in the Old Testament- see Jepthah. Others have tried to offer up their daughters to be raped instead of some angels (see Lot). Others have abandoned their daughters to be raped by their sons because... um... they loved the first born son a whole bunch, and it was just easier to look the other way. When another son exacted justice for the rape, Dad got very angry and eventually had him killed after he revolted against his dad's rule (see David and Absolom). So, if you're not careful, you could be lead down the road that the book of Leviticus proposes- if your kids talk back to you, have them stoned. Okay, so clearly we need to read these stories within our own historical reality and with our own ethical views intact. When one questions the morality of the 10 commandments and finds some inhuman value systems at work, it is the product of culture shock. That does not have any bearing on the existence of God. Just because some people wrote some things about their idea of God in another time doesn't mean he doesn't exist. To define God as this absolutely perfect never wrong being just doesn't jive with the character in the scriptures as we have seen him over time. So too, when we look at the commandments, we need to see the positive contributions the Decalogue made to our current ethical values. Prior to this, very few cultures had set out rules that upheld what we now see as obvious. All your arguments about what "thou shalt not kill/murder" are scholastic spider webs that will get you no where. Clearly thou shalt never kill anything anywhere anytime is not doable, so it is pointless. Clearly we need to use such a command in our own context. We no longer see our children as property, and cannot kill them for talking back. Thou shalt not kill should be read as, killing people is really a bad thing. Avoid it if at all possible. Granted, there are times when you'll need to kill, but make it happen as infrequently as possible. Clearly, sneaking up behind a guy whose wife you want to sleep with and slitting his throat is a bad thing. Yes, one of you suggested that slavery is wrong. However, there are some times when people become very similar to slaves- prisoners of war for example. Also, one might say a med student comes pretty close to slavery during a residency... but I digress.

    To conclude, divine command theory, the idea that what God says goes- period is problematic. To argue that what the scriptures say goes is even more problematic, leading one (if one is not careful) toward infanticide, rape, etc. Read carefully.

  3. Hi Ted. I’ve been meaning to respond to this for a while.
    I don’t think your arguments are particularly valid. You first argue that the only proper reading of the Old Testament is inerrancy (and curiously enough KJV inerrancy), and then since that is ridiculous, the whole thing must be rejected. It’s akin to saying that if I believe in the Constitution as a basis for republican democracy, then I must believe in reinstating the three-fifths rule, and therefore I must reject my belief in republican democracy. Most Christians recognize that the Old Testament (the first five books in particular) was written a long time ago, over a long time period, by different writers. It’s relatively evident the conception of God at the time of writing was closer to that of a tribal god with many human characteristics. The modern Christian believer can easily read the passages about the slaughter of yet another tribe as jingoistic bias on the part of the writer and not the result of divine command. Such a reading, to my eye, would render their beliefs relatively unscathed by your arguments. It’s not relevant to their moral precepts that three thousand years ago there was stuff about stoning, witches, etc. written next to it. Even when I was a Christian I considered the Old Testament more of a historical document than as a basis for morality. To my perception, most of the modern Christian world-view comes from the New Testament, supplemented by a relatively benign interpretation of the Ten Commandments. The fact that the seven non-religious commandments more or less mirror what we would consider basic morality is not really an argument against them.
    Really, I have a problem with your initial premise: “If Christians are right, religious morality must be objectively true – it is divine. God’s law should be perfect, making revision and abridgement unnecessary. It should be universal and should still be applicable to modern civilization.”
    Why? What Christians claim this? Maybe some do, but I doubt they really believe it. Wouldn’t it be logically inconsistent for Christians, since this belief would render the teachings of Christ either superfluous or wrong, since they revised prior morals? What’s the point of theology at all if divine rules are easily applied in all contexts?
    I feel that by pursuing this line of attack, where you wade into the mire of debate about Old Testament translations and theology, you have to adopt your own beliefs about it (in your case KJV inerrancy and a rejection of moral relativism). Despite the fact you are an atheist, your beliefs aren’t much more valid or based on reason than anyone else’s in these matters. Once you start rooting around in the text for inconsistencies and oddities you lose the primary advantage of an atheist in any of these sorts of arguments: elegance.